A full bench of the High Court in Pretoria has reserved judgment in the DA and EFF’s applications aimed at forcing former president Jacob Zuma to pay for his own defence in his corruption and money laundering trial and pay back the between R17 million and R32 million already spent on him.
The DA and EFF asked the court to set aside a series of government decisions dating back to 2005 to pay for a private legal team to represent Zuma in his criminal trial and a series of related applications.
They also want the court to order Zuma to pay back the millions already spent on his legal teams, arguing that Zuma failed to honour repeated undertakings to pay back his legal fees if his various applications aimed at stopping his prosecution did not succeed.
None of Zuma’s attempts through the years – allegedly to avoid having his day in court – was successful and the criminal charges were reinstated in March following a series of adverse court rulings, including that the withdrawal of the charges in 2009 had been unconstitutional.
He is due to appear in the high court in Pietermaritzburg again on November 30 after his trial was postponed to sort out the issue of who was going to pay for his defence.
Zuma’s advocate Thabani Masuku SC today told the court his client would proceed with an application for a permanent stay of his prosecution, which he was confident would succeed.
Masuku said his client would repay his legal fees if asked to do so, but the State Attorney has not yet asked him to pay anything and, if he had to pay back the money now, it would inevitably affect his defence in his criminal trial.
Masuku argued that the court should not assist the DA and EFF in their political strategy to gain votes and to hurt Zuma politically without any concrete evidence that he had abused his position at all.
Judge Ledwaba said it was not their task to assist any political party.
He said the court could not conclude from the charge sheet alone that Zuma was not acting in the course and scope of his employment as it could not assess the evidence and should leave it to the Pietermaritzburg court to determine.
Masuku posited that none of the applications launched by Zuma was frivolous, as all of them concerned matters of constitutional and public importance. Zuma had also not initiated all of the litigation in which he was involved and was dragged to court several times by political parties, he added.
Counsel for the EFF, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, said the wrong that began in 2008 and even before that when the state undertook to pay for Zuma’s legal costs would continue indefinitely unless the court put a stop to it.
He said it was clear that the State Attorney made no attempt at financial control over Zuma’s legal costs and appointed a private attorney, which they were not entitled to do. No provision was made to pay for adverse cost orders, yet the state paid for what amounted to completely unauthorised and wasteful expenditure, he added.
He said if the State Attorney was to claim the wasted costs from Zuma tomorrow, the claim would most likely have prescribed, which meant the public would have been left out of pocket because of pure mismanagement by the State Attorney.
Counsel for the DA, Sean Rosenberg SC, said the issue of state functionaries being entitled to private legal defence funded by the state when facing charges of corruption was of compelling public importance.
“The issue of unlimited state funding as a device to enable never-ending litigation is an issue that calls out for determination by this court,” he said.